A post on Facebook offering 50 free iPads in memory of Apple's leader was one example of how cynical scammers exploit people's emotions.
The death of Apple visionary Steve Jobs Oct. 5 drew millions of heartfelt testimonials on websites and social media platforms around the world. It also, predictably, drew cynical attempts by online scammers to exploit Jobs’ death for a few dollars.
Security company Sophos reported on its Naked Security blog that one scam on Facebook turned up within hours. It likely won’t be the last.
Posted under the heading “R.I.P. Steve Jobs,” it announced that “a company” was giving away 50 free iPads in honor of Apple’s late leader. It asked people to click on a bit.ly short-URL, which took users to a page asking for personal information, in exchange for an iPad that was, of course, non-existent.
When Sophos’ Graham Cluley found the scam, more than 15,000 people had already clicked on the link. Sophos asked Bit-ly to shut the link down.
The scammers make “affiliate cash” by directing traffic to websites run by companies looking to gather personal information or hook people into a sale, Cluley writes, which is why they regularly exploit events they people know people will be looking for online. When tennis star Serena Williams berated an umpire at the U.S. Open in 2009, some bad actors posted a link that instead took people to a site loaded with malware. Scams have piggybacked on other big events, such as the Royal Wedding in April.
These traffic-driving, information-gathering scams can react so quickly to events because most of their operation is already set up, even to the point of identifying where the clicks are coming from.
Cluley writes that he was at a conference in Barcelona when he came across the Facebook post, and clicking the link took him to a page in Spanish. A colleague of his in Australia got a page in English, with note congratulating his for being “selected in Sydney.”
When a significant event happens, the scammers need only send e-mails or make posts to social media platforms with lures to draw people in.
So in the case of Jobs’ death, or any other event in which a scammer could exploit people’s curiosity or emotions, it’s best to be careful about clicking on links. Cluley says people are likely to see appeals to donate money to Jobs’ favorite charities, for example. A few other obvious possibilities might be “exclusive” pictures, testimonials and, most likely, more free offers.